(This story was published in 2004).
By: Pat Griffin
Thanks for coming out publicly as a lesbian professional golfer. As you made clear in your New York Times column, the gap between being out to close friends and family and coming out publicly to fans and potential corporate sponsors has been huge. I appreciate the leap you have made across that chasm, one not many active professional athletes choose to make. Most gay and lesbian pro athletes who have chosen to come out did so after or close to retiring from active competition. You join an elite group--including Martina Navratilova, Amelie Mauresmo, Rudy Galindo, and Carrie Webb--of lesbian and gay pro athletes who continue to compete after they come out.
Because lesbian and gay pro athletes have been so closeted, we celebrate each coming out as another step toward the elimination of homophobia and heterosexism in athletics. Your coming out forces opponents of lesbian and gay rights in and out of athletics to face the contradictions of their own prejudices. Your coming out provides another role model for young lesbian and gay athletes and for straight athletes too. Your coming out pulls back the veil of secrecy and fear that hides the reality of lesbian and gay participation in sport at all levels and reveals the hypocrisy of silence from leaders in athletics about lesbian and gay coaches and athletes.
I appreciate and respect your decision to come out on your own terms – when, where, and how you chose to tell the world that you are a lesbian. I believe these decisions should be made by each of us according to our own sense of readiness. As a professional athlete this means a readiness for the additional media attention focused on you as a lesbian golfer rather than just a golfer. Coming out means you have a readiness to lose some fans who cannot accept you as a lesbian and winning new respect and admiration from others who applaud your openness. You might lose some potential corporate sponsors, but you might also gain others.
You will also learn that being publicly out, being honest and true to yourself, and shedding that automatic filter you developed to partition your private life from your public one is wonderful and freeing. You might even play better golf with the energy this decision will free up for you! I wish you the best as you start this journey.
I would like to ask you about one thing you said in your coming out statement though. You said, “I know that coming out in today’s politically supercharged environment surrounding gay issues has the potential to spin into something I do not intend.” You then tell readers that you have “strong feelings” about gay and lesbian rights and that you vote, but you tell us, “first and foremost, I am a proud and blessed member of the LPGA and a professional athlete, not an activist.”
I am wondering what this means, that you do not intend to be an activist. What do you think an activist is? And why do you see it as incompatible with being a professional athlete? This raises questions about whether or not any lesbian or gay public figure who comes out in this “politically supercharged environment” can truly claim that this is merely a personal statement rather an inherently political act. Is it realistic to expect those of us who proudly claim the activist label to applaud your coming out and not wish for you to use your public celebrity in some way to advance the cause of lesbian and gay civil rights in or out of sports?
I’m wondering, Rosie, what you won’t do as a non-activist. Will you expect us to never again allude to your being a lesbian now that you have come out? Having made your coming out declaration will you “in” yourself by refusing to talk about it in public anymore? You would have company in this non-activism. Carol Blazejewski, the general manager of the WNBA N.Y. Liberty, and your own colleague, Patty Sheehan, have taken this approach to coming out.
Will you decline to speak on behalf of making sports safe for young lesbian and gay athletes? The emerging movement to make sports safe and welcoming for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender people needs out professional athletes like you who now have a forum and can reach audiences other lesser known activists and educators like me cannot hope to touch.
If you decline to be an activist, I am wondering if your coming out is merely a personal statement necessitated by signing on with a gay travel corporate sponsor? And though I am happy for you and thrilled that we have one more openly lesbian professional athlete to claim, we in the LGBT sports movement will miss your presence at our side in this particular civil rights battle.
So, Rosie, I encourage you to think about redefining your definition of activism to make it something that will be compatible being a professional athlete. Be an activist in a way that fits you and your career. Please don’t turn away from this opportunity. Decide what you can do with your new status and forum that elevates your coming out beyond a personal statement. Because you are a public figure you have a forum. You can help to change perspectives, save lives, end discrimination, make the world of sport a safer place for the young athletes who come after you. You have an opportunity so few us toiling in the LGBT sports movement get – What you choose to do now makes a difference.
In the end, you can choose when and how to come out, but this act cannot yet be only a personal statement. You may choose to be a non-activist, but that is a political choice. One I hope that, as you get used to being an “openly lesbian” pro athlete, you will reject.
I wish you the best,
Lesbian Educator and Proud Activist
Griffin played basketball and field hockey at the University of Maryland and coached at the high school level. She is also a prolific author on issues of sexism and homophobia in sports. Griffin is a professor in Social Justice Education at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. Her research and writing interests focus on heterosexism and homophobia in education, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender teachers and students, and heterosexism and homophobia in athletics, with a particular interest in women's sports.